Britain in the World
Events gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Events of 1901
The Empire
In 1901 Britain ruled about a quarter of the world, an empire inhabited by some 400 million people. It encompassed the Indian subcontinent and large parts of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia. A census of the empire in 1901 estimated that India had by far the largest population of these regions, at 274 million (England's population, by contrast, was about 41.5 million).

An empire of two sorts
British imperial rule was exercised in one of two ways: through '"enlightened" despotism [or] …evolving representative government', as the historian Wm. Roger Louis puts it. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, which were viewed as white settlement colonies, took the second path. By 1910 all four had achieved dominion status, giving them a measure of autonomy from Britain. The Commonwealth of Australia, with its own Parliament and judiciary, was established at the beginning of 1901 (legislation passed by Australia later in the year sought, via a language test, to encourage white immigration).

For more on Australia, link to Australia's Story.

Britain's willingness to grant self-governing status to the dominions seemed to indicate that the empire was adapting to meet the challenges of the new century. However, some doubt existed in Britain about the long-term viability of the empire and Britain's ability to govern it.

Africa in 1901
In the colonies, however - the rest of the empire - British rule was authoritarian, and, in Africa in particular, British military expansion was still in full swing. In fact, the empire did not reach its full extent until after the First World War.

The world in 2001? - link to an enlarged version

In 1884–5 the European powers had carved up Africa between them (a process known as 'the scramble for Africa'), and in 1901 they were still extending direct control to states and societies unwilling to surrender their independence. In the British Somaliland Protectorate (now absorbed into Somalia), a nationalist movement headed by Sayyid Muhammad had rebelled against British rule in 1899. These fighters, known as 'dervishes' to the British, were subdued in 1904 (although war was resumed in 1909 and it was not until 1920 that the firepower of the RAF led to their defeat).

In west Africa, Nigeria was coming increasingly under British sway. The protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria had been established in 1900, and this was followed by bloody campaigns to enforce British rule. Meanwhile, in Ghana (then the Gold Coast), the fall of the ancient Asante (Ashanti) empire was complete by 1901. The kingdom had been conquered in the 19th century: in 1896 the king, Prempeh I, had been exiled to the Seychelles.

The fall of Prempeh was an open wound, and in 1900 a new and inexperienced British governor provoked a rising by making demands on the Asante including the surrender of their 'golden stool' or ceremonial throne. The military campaign was led by the Queen of the Asante state of Edweso, Nana Yaa Asantewaa, whose husband was in exile with Prempeh. It was defeated, and in 1901 the leaders of the uprising were deported.

Yaa Asantewaa has given her name to a Black Arts and Community Centre in London.

Asante prisoners to be exiled - link to an enlarged version
Old Friends and Enemies? The Problem of Isolation The Empire Moving to Britain The South African War Censorship Methods of Barbarism?